Nirvana’s Final UK Appearance

Reading Festival 1992: The myths exploded!

Journalist Everett True became friends with Kurt Cobain through his dedication to the grunge scene while working at Melody Maker. He is responsible for bringing together Kurt and Courtney Love. He is also the man who pushed Kurt on stage (in a wheelchair) at Reading Festival in 1992. Here, he bursts five bubbles of Nirvana legend from that historic day…

1. His band didn’t know what was going on when Kurt turned up on stage in the wheelchair

This one is patently not true.

Aside from anything else, Krist Novoselic introduced Nirvana that evening as I appeared on the edge of the stage with the wheelchair, “…he’ll pull through. With the help of his friends and his family, he’ll pull through”. The whole stunt had been planned the previous night as a burn on those who’d been gossiping about Kurt and his wife, who’d just given birth to Frances Bean: Kurt’s in hospital, Kurt’s been arrested, Kurt’s OD’d, Courtney’s OD’d, the baby’s been born deformed… Admittedly, the rumours had been fuelled by the weird-ass paranoia that had lingered around the eerily quiet backstage all day, the fact Nirvana were late to show up – despite the fact Sunday at Reading 1992 was ‘Grunge Day’, bands that played included Mudhoney, L7, ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds.

But, from where I sat, slumped against a wall in Nirvana’s tiny backstage trailer, swigging from a bottle of vodka and fervently wishing there was something else to eat aside from M&Ms and the curling, stiffening slices of processed ham and cheese, it all seemed like a grand jape. “Where’s the wheelchair? Where’s the wheelchair?” came the cries. What wheelchair? “Oh, it’s meant to be a joke on the stuff journalists have been writing about me,” Kurt explained patiently to his drunken English buddy. “The idea is I’m going to pretend to be ill, straight from hospital. Look, I’ve got some overalls somewhere and some hair extensions so I look more like Courtney…”

Oh, in that case, why don’t I push the wheelchair on stage? It’ll be way funnier. You can’t do it if you’re supposed to be ill. And you can wear this blonde wig that my sister sent me. It’ll be much funnier. No one could think of a good enough reason to stop me.

2. You can see anything on stage at Reading

That’s not true, not at all – at least, certainly not at night. All I can remember – and it’s not much: alcohol and hedonism will do that to a man – is the lights.

The lights, and pushing Kurt around in the wheelchair beforehand, chasing the girls from L7 in ever-increasing circles, oblivious to the amount of damage I could cause if I lost control. The lights, and the clamorous noise that became an overwhelming din as the curtains were pulled back; the noise, and the steam rising from sixty thousand expectant bodies, and the lights, and the fact I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. I really didn’t. At some point while I was pushing him towards his microphone, the singer reached up and grappled me. “Oh great,” I thought in my intoxicated state. “Kurt wants to have a mock-fight on stage like we used to in the old days.” So I reached down and began to pretend to punch him. “No, you asshole,” Kurt fiercely whispered. “You’re pushing me to the wrong microphone.” Oh. Fuck.

3. Reading is a friendly haven, a home from home Uh-huh.

No way. You know why I had that blonde wig in my possession, why my sister sent it to me the previous week? That’s cos she knew I’d been threatened several times at the previous year’s festival, by punters – including a pair with knives. So she sent it to me as a disguise. I wore it on the Saturday, dancing to Teenage Fanclub in the rain, and everyone was like, “Why’s Everett True wearing a wig, dancing to Teenage Fanclub in the rain?”

The week after Reading, Melody Maker ran a competition on the gossip pages, announcing “Win the wig that Kurt Cobain wore at Reading”. No one believed us. We didn’t have a single entry. So we ran it again, printing stupid photos of me wearing it alongside grunge ‘celebrities’ such as Mark Arm and Eugene Kelly: this time round, we got a ton of erudite, urbane and generally kick-ass entries.

Only problem was, I’d lost the wig!

4. No one used mobile phones back in 1992

Not true either.

How else do you think Kurt managed to famously get the crowd to chant “Courtney, we love you” halfway through Nirvana’s final UK appearance? It’s just that they were the size of a small house back then. “I remember Kurt calling Courtney on the cell phone from on stage,” said L7 bassist Jennifer Finch. “I’d never seen a cell phone before. Yes, there were all these people yelling, yet I was just sitting there, transfixed on this cell phone.”

5. Nirvana weren’t aware of the influences on their songs

Nope. Not at all. No way.

For example, how about their early song “Aero-Zeppelin”… part Aerosmith and part Led Zeppelin? Want further proof? Have a look at the DVD of their Reading Festival performance: twelve songs in, the band deliberately cocked up the intro to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as Dave Grohl bellowed out the words to Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’. They knew all right.

6. Nirvana’s final UK performance was also one of their greatest

Oh okay. This one is just about right.

Words by Everett True

Read more of Clash Magazine’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’.

A classic interview with Nirvana from 1989 by John Robb
‘Bleach’ producer Jack Endino remembers the recording of the album.

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